Version 9.0 of Corel Paint Shop Pro adds some convenient tricks to help maximize the main work space, such as roll-away palettes and the ability to minimize open images to tabs. The most important interface addition is the new History palette, which tracks the actions you perform on the active image. The palette lets you undo and redo commands, making it easy to experiment. Unlike in Photoshop, you can undo a single command without affecting any subsequent entries in the list. What's more, the entire history can be exported to a script and subsequently applied to other images.
Also new is the Mixer palette, which emulates the color-mixing mechanics of a real brush and palette. Add dabs of color to the palette surface, swirl them around, and select the exact color you want. The palette was designed to work with Corel's new natural media tools, simulating the tactile experience of analog art without the messy cleanup.
Corel Paint Shop Pro's photo-correction features are among its greatest strengths, containing noteworthy touches you won't find elsewhere. For example, the Automatic Color Balance filter has a slider to adjust for lighting temperature: incandescent, fluorescent, daylight, or anything in between. You can process your photos manually or take advantage of the automatic commands in the Enhance Photo menu. Photographers who use raw formats (unprocessed data from your camera's CCD) will be happy to learn that Paint Shop Pro 9.0 can preprocess and open these images.
Paint Shop Pro has several filters for correcting various lens distortions--barrel, fish-eye, and pincushion--plus a chromatic aberration filter for removing the colored fringing often seen on sharply contrasting edges. The excellent noise-removal tool gave us better results than any comparable tool we've seen in an image-editing program to date. Also, Paint Shop's Clarify filter improved murky underwater pictures. In addition, each filter shows a large preview window so that you can fiddle with pertinent adjustment settings.
On the downside, Paint Shop's Flash Fill and Backlighting filters, meant to correct under- and overexposed areas (respectively) in your digital images, were disappointing. There just weren't enough controls to make these filters work well; Photoshop still triumphs in the exposure correction department.
Although Paint Shop Pro isn't going to replace Corel Painter any time soon, the program's new Art Media tools are fun to use. The new Mixer palette lets you experiment with paper textures and blended colors, and the brushes themselves--chalk, pastel, crayon, oil, and marker--work fairly well; however, taking full advantage of the Art Media tools requires a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet. (Wacom is the gold standard here.) The tools were moderately responsive and suitable for adding realistic artwork to our image. However, if you are serious about art media, we suggest that you upgrade to Corel Painter.
Paint Shop Pro doesn't begin and end with image editing; there are a few tools for creating such vector graphics as lines, shapes, and text. These features can come in handy when you need a few lines, boxes, or stars to enhance your photo. If you need to make quick Web buttons, Paint Shop also has the ability to create image maps, rollover buttons, and image slices.
Corel's customer support is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT, Monday through Friday. This service is free but not toll-free, and options to purchase priority support are available on Corel's Web site, which includes 24-hour online support and hosts extensive newsgroups where you can ask questions and hopefully get answers from other users. In addition, Paint Shop Pro's manual is outstanding. It includes detailed explanations for every tool, plus informative sidebars and tidbits that will help you better understand the program and image editing in general.